There are two types of to-do lists

Nothing feels as good as checking something off a to-do list. In fact, I have added completed tasks to my to-do list purely to enjoy the feeling of checking them off a moment later.

The problem I find is that the tasks which are important to get done in the longer term and which move projects forward, tend to be:

  1. Harder to get started with
  2. Less enjoyable until I get going
  3. Non-urgent

I say these tasks are non-urgent in the sense that while they need to get done, I could easily put them off until tomorrow, or another day later on.

Instead, it is so easy to pass the day checking off trivial tasks:

  1. Send email to colleague
  2. Submit form to HR
  3. Attend staff meeting

Now, if you do a daily review of what you’ve done that day, you might think those 3 items aren’t too bad. The problem is that while there are daily tasks we must complete, many of them don’t actually benefit you in the long run. They don’t help you finish the projects upon which you are ultimately judged.

I now have two types of to-do list:

  1. A reminders list for daily tasks, so that I don’t forget the minor things that need to get done each day
  2. A to-do list for my major projects – this is the list I pay attention to and track

My aim is to try to avoid judging my productivity based on tasks like how many emails I’ve sent, meetings attended or forms I’ve submitted to the department. They may have to get done, but they are irrelevant to me as they do not get me closer to my real goals. I judge myself based on how much I get done on tasks that bring me one-step closer to finishing my projects.

My advice (that I’m currently trying to live up to), is to make sure that every day you’re trying to work on the tasks that matter. One checked off task for a major project is worth far more than many of the trivial tasks we perform every day.

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Computational biology PhD candidate at the Australian National University. I love writing (both articles and software), learning more about the world around us, and beekeeping. I also write for BioSky.co

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